There is so much to think about when getting prepped for maternity leave, so let me help take the strain off with my maternity leave checklist:
Know your rights – especially when it comes to taking time off for antenatal care, pay and sick leave. Have a look at the Gov.uk website for more details. Also know your partner’s rights too. I was surprised to find out that your partner is entitled to take time off to go to two antenatal appointments with you, so you don’t have to fly solo to those scans or feel guilty about asking them to take a half day of leave.
Review your company handbook – and learn what your company’s policy on maternity leave is. If, like many women, you’re not comfortable telling anyone about your pregnancy until your first trimester is over, just reading the information is a helpful start. You can always ask HR about anything you don’t understand later, once you’ve decided to share the news with everyone.
Start recruiting for your maternity cover early – and if you can be part of the recruitment process, then so much the better. However if you aren’t able to conduct the interviews yourself, try to stay involved in the process where possible (such as asking to see their CV or meet the candidate at a later stage). This will enable you to feel more in control of the process. Once the cover has been recruited, do try to spend some time with them in advance of them taking on the role (even just for a coffee out of the office as I did with mine) as well as dedicating sufficient time to a full handover in the office when you have your crossover time. I recommend up to two weeks crossover if possible, to reassure both them and you, but I appreciate this isn’t always achievable.
Don’t necessarily look for a ‘like for like’ candidate for your maternity cover – you might wish to consider someone who brings something different to your team, so that they can add additional value whilst you are away. Don’t be nervous that they will overshadow you with their skills, as you will have plenty of time to shine when you return, not to mention come back to a stronger team with new expertise.
Start writing your handover early – to ensure that those minor details aren’t missed. I had my handover (my 8 page bible) open on my desktop for at least two months before my final day. This was invaluable, as I just added in anything and everything that came to mind as I did it during my day job. It’s always hard to think on demand about what you do in a daily basis, so don’t rush this process.
Set up meetings, meetings and more meetings – with your direct reports before your maternity leave to discuss your expectations and clarify any concerns or issues they or you may anticipate. Explain to your team what you expect them to prepare and what you are working on. This will ensure that you aren’t dealing with any last-minute issues as your due date approaches and also that there is clarity over who is leading on what.
Do accept help around the office – no one can be superwoman, so if you need help, ask for it. There were a number of times I needed a little help from my team, whether that be helping me carry parcels (new baby purchases) to the car, stopping a meeting for a snack to put the morning sickness at bay, or even asking them if I could delay our meeting slightly so I could take another trip to the loo. Your colleagues are there to help and support you so take them up on their offers and don’t feel guilty about this.
Talk to other mums and dads – by talking to colleagues in your department or friends at work about their maternity leave experiences, you can learn an awful lot. Try to solicit tips and advice about how to manage your maternity leave and return to work. You could also ask your colleagues what they do with respect to childcare, especially if you plan on finding childcare close to your workplace or alternatively require a flexible start time to do a nursery drop. The more detail you get now, the more you can relax during your maternity leave knowing things are in place.
OOO – set up your office email auto-reply explaining to clients, suppliers etc where you are. Make sure to leave either a list of appropriate contacts or a single contact that the sender can reach out to in your absence.
Relax – and take some time off to chill before you have the baby if possible. You will find that once you are off on maternity leave, there is still lots to do (such as washing baby clothes, batch cooking for the freezer, last minute trips to see friends etc). Given that you are going to be extra tired during this time, don’t try and cram everything in to just a few days. Also don’t forget babies can come early. You don’t want to worry about the fact you are still at work during your first contractions after all!